"Throughout the ages, meteorological phenomena have occupied a central place
in the pre-occupations of mankind. In no other field was man felt himself so constantly
and intensively at the mercy of "natural forces" and so defenceless against events
affecting his daily life, often with tragic consequences. Droughts, Hoods, freezes and
other climatic disasters inimical to life have always been regarded inevitable. There was
nothing else to do but to endure them. We still mostly endure them..." (Gracia 1981 : 3).
This study is essentially an attempt not as much as an enquiry into the causes of drought
but in a modest was an attempt to understand, with reference to a region, the magnitude
of the impact of drought and how people struggle to endure it.
There has been extensive documentation of the drought related impact on
economic, environmental and social sectors. The third world spread over all the three
continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America especially are vulnerable to severe and
frequent droughts. Agricultural production, livestock, employment opportunities and
food security suffer severe set back causing extensive social convulsions of suffering.
The slowness with which drought affects seem to often lead to ignoring of the phenomenon
as a relatively of less severe consequence. But the impact of the drought, though not
dramatically catastrophic, is traumatically crippling particularly on the poorer sections
of the society. The regions subject to frequent droughts languish economically untouched
by much of progress that by the passes these places and people.
The two districts chosen for the present study, viz. Mahabubnagar and Anantapur,
form a part of the drought zone of Andhra Pradesh and languish as the poorest region
of the state. The rainfall in these districts is scanty and highly variable. There is hardly
any technological breakthrough that enables crop culture below a certain minimum
precipitation. As a result the cropped area undergoes wide variations with the change in
In Anantapur district, the elasticity of acreage response to rainfall is as high as
0.25. The output and productivity are also highly sensitive to variations in rainfall.
Anantapur which is gradually emerging as a monocrop agricultural district with groundnut
occupying almost three fourth of the area under cultivation, shows that sensitivity of
output to rainfall variation is as much as 1.07. It is also high for the other two important
crops viz. bajra (1.19) and jowar (0.49). Similar variability is noticed in the productivity
of these crops. The sensitivity indices refer to the percentage deviations in production
or productivity from the trend due to one percent deviation in rainfall, The instability
indices of crop output also are very high for most of the important crops.
Interestingly, the sensitivity analysis of rainfall on area, output and productivity
in Mahabubnagar district does not show much clear results, except for productivity. But
the visitation of droughts, the disjunction in production and employment are no less
severe in Mahabubnagar. In fact, the magnitude of seasonal migration, an important sign
of distress, is very high in Mahabubnagar.
To study the extent of impact oi drought on different sections of the society such
as small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans, household
surveys were conducted in seven villages of Anantapur and Mahabubnagar districts. The
four villages surveyed in Anantapur district are East Kodipalle, Pillalapalle, Chintarlapalle
and Adavigollapalle. The village profiles show that most of these villages have been
experiencing severe drought during the late 1970s and even during the later decade.
There were shorter spells of drought in the area since 1988. Most of the villages are
dependent on agriculture and are supported with livestock and other agricultural labour
services. The social and economic infrastructure is not well developed and even credit
facilities are available to limited extent. Most of the villages have drinking water
problem and suffer from lack of rainfall leading to scarce irrigation. However, the
villagers are resorting to in-well bores upto 250 to 300 feet of depth. The cropping is
done in dry areas with sowing of groundnut, korra, bajra and castor.
In Mahabubnagar, the three selected villages are Raikal, Marchala and Patherchad.
These villages are also affected by the drought. There is a problem of drinking water for
human beings and fodder scarcity to cattle as the tanks and ponds have dried up. The
important crops are groundnut, bajra, redgram, cowgram and greengram. The infrastructure
like roads and communication facilities in these villages is not developed. Farmers of all
classes suffer during the Kharif season in both the districts as substantial area remains
unsown during the drought year. In the four villages of Anantapur district, during the
drought year only about 7.10% of the normal area is cultivated. While in the three
villages of Mahabubnagar district about 17.46% of the normal area is cultivated during
the Kharif season. There is also a decline in the production of crops such as groundnut,
bajra, rice, jowar and cotton in Anantapur district in 1990-91 when compared with 1987-
88 and 1988-89.
During the drought period, it was observed in both the districts that employment
got reduced and wages to males decreases from Rs. 20 to 25 to Rs. 15 to 18 and in the
case of females there was a decline from Rs. 15 to 20 to Rs. 8 to 15. Even in the case
of labourers who migrate, the wages were at lower level ranging from Rs. 18 to 25 per
males and Rs. 12 to 15 for the females.
During a drought year, the employment situation in East Kodipalle village
showed that 87.5% of the males and almost all the females in cultivator category found
work for only about 60 days on an average. Agricultural labourers got employment upto
76.3% for males and 70.0% for females with work days ranging from 98 to 77 days.
Similar situation prevailed in the remaining three villages with slight changes.
In Mahabubnagar, the employment situation in Raikal showed that even during
drought, most of the female cultivators did get employment for almost 150 days on an
average but much of it is thin employment on own farms. In the case of male and female
agricultural labourers, about 90% and 85% of them, respectively were able to get
employment for about 1 10 days on an average. In this village, there was no migration
even during the drought year. The overall observation for the district on employment in
that during drought the farmers engage themselves in agricultural activities for a period
of 90 days during the Kharif season. Though the level of employment of all households
decline substantially during drought, the agricultural labour households experience
much severe decline than the cultivators. The intensity of employment of even cultivator
households declines considerably but even the thin employment offered by own farms
helps them survive. Hence the continued aspiration of the landless for some land.
Under the pressure of drought the farmers adopt different strategies such as
migration, resort to non-farm activities, sale of cattle and even land. In Anantapur
villages, during drought 92.4% of total livestock has been disposed. In Mahabubnagar,
78.2% of cattle, 93.5% of buffaloes, 88.8% of cows, 84.3% of sheep, 36.3% of goats
which accounted for 83% of the total livestock, were sold during the drought year.
The shepherds resorted to wool collection and blanket making which earn them
Rs. 25/- per day for males and Rs. 20/- per day for females. Wool shearing provides
employment upto 75 days to Kuruvas.
01 the 26 households of Kuruvas and Gollas in the three villages of Mahabubnagar
district, there were 40 male and 34 female adult members. Of the 40 males, 37.5% of
them are engaged in sheep rearing, 45% of them work as agricultural labourers and
17.5% as cultivators. Of the females only one person is engaged fully in sheep rearing,
while 91% of them work as agricultural labourers and only six percent are cultivators.
The adjustment strategies adopted to drought differ among various sections of
people. For cultivators, the strategies are short-term migration, farm and non-farm
activities. For the shepherds particularly the Kuruvas and Gollas, the adjustment
strategies lie in sheep rearing, farming and agricultural labour activities along with
transhumance with sheep for six months. The shepherds rely to a great extent on their
traditional pattern of sheep rearing, sale of sheep, wool etc., during drought. But they
face problems such as scarcity of fodder, drinking water and diseases due to which the
sheep perish. The problem of scarcity of fodder due to drying up of pastures is overcome
by them by increasing their transhumance range, i.e. by moving into the forest edge
habitats and foothill zones of Nallamala where the sheep can feed on a variety of dry
deciduous plant species. But several shepherd informants emphasised that the major
effects of drought for them is a sizable decline in the number of sheep in their herds.
The other effects are the low prices at which they have to sell their sheep and sheep
products than in normal year. Since sheep are the asset for these shepherds, the above
factors, destabilise their economic system and to withstand these conditions, shepherds
with especially small herd size, most often make borrowings. However, those with larger
herd-size manage to adjust without recourse to borrowing.
In Mahabubnagar, the shepherds (Kuruvas and Gollas) migrate with sheep
seasonally to forest areas for grazing. During the drought it is their transhumance which
provides them additional incomes and works as an escape strategy. Though the shepherds
possess land, the returns from cultivation are only supplementary compared with the
main returns from the sheep rearing. Many shepherds derive their sustenance and asset generating
incomes from their main activity of sheep rearing. Among those shepherds who do not have sheep
or goats, agricultural activities such as farm labour helps them to overcome drought effects.
Most of traditional societies have evolved indigenous survival strategies to
tackle drought. They range from alternative occupations to migration, crop diversification
and transhumance in the case of shepherd groups. In Anantapur, we observed crop
concentration around groundnut crop over a long period between 1950s and 1990s. In
Mahabubnagar, though the crop diversity is high, the castor stands out as the most
important crop. Both the districts show over exploitation of groundwater, fodder
shortage, distress sale of cattle and lack of proper adjustment leading to pathetic
conditions of cattle and peasants. Lack of employment works resulted in the migration
of labour. Construction work, short-term migration to near by villages, fruit and seed
collection, and other alternative occupations to generate incomes sticking to traditional
artisan activities, are the basic strategies in these drought affected villages.
The overall observation is that though the rural society is able to survive the
drought with its indigenous characterstics of its people, there remains a long term
solution to stop migration, restore cattle and stabilize cropping patterns. Proper organisation
of rural people particularly of small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers, rural
artisans and shepherd groups (specifically the Kuruvas and the Gollas) is essential at the
grass-root level. At the administrative level the governmental programmes are to be
reshuffled and should be made more beneficiary friendly to these groups in their content
and approach in implementation and coverage.
Though The Government has been operating several developmental programmes
for these groups, the benefits are not within the reach of many of the shepherds. Though
some of the shepherds are organising into units and setting up establishments such as
welfare societies, they suffer due to lack of financial support from banks and financial
The Government-run short-term drought mitigating programmes have certain
limitations in implementation and lack demonstration ability of prevent the drought
affected population from migrating and over utilisation of existing resources. The long-
term measures taken during the past three and a half decade could not provide any
drought proofing to the people in this semi-arid drought vulnerable region. This reveals
that the efforts done in the previous years are scanty and meagre in nature when
compared with the quantum and magnitude of the drought.
There is a need for reallocation of resources such as credit and infrastructural
facilities so as to make these available to the stratified and marginal groups on whom the
drought shows its differential impact. For the time being the Government will have to
continue to rely on short-term relief and rehabilitation measures in the event of
recurrence of droughts. Rural socio-political institutions (village panchayats, co-operative
societies, voluntary agencies and charitable trusts) did not associate so far with the
Government in delivering the relief materials to the people. All their efforts have been
independent and scattered in nature with a very limited impact on the living conditions
of the drought affected society.
It is necessary that all the pending projects be implemented on war-footing and
accommodate drought programmes into the general development plan of the State
Government as it's inevitable component. There is also a need to formulate an ecologically
well balanced drought mitigating policy which shows concern for the cause and welfare
of human and livestock as well as water, land and flora and fauna, over a period of time
to attain sustainable rural development. There is a need to organise the village institutions
like panchayats, co-operatives and voluntary agencies along with the Governmental
agencies at the top level to protect the drought affected sections of the society to
participate in drought eradication at the community level.